Friday, 19 November 2010

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, November 2010)

BRAHMS The Symphonies
Berliner Philharmoniker / SIR SIMON RATTLE
EMI Classics 2672542 (3 CDs)

Listening through this cycle of four symphonies by Brahms, one pondered if there was actually a “golden age” of the Berlin Philharmonic. Older cognoscenti swear by Wilhelm Furtw√§ngler of the 1940-50s. Others hail Herbert von Karajan’s discipline and pristine clarity, a partnership of longevity which ushered in the digital era of the compact disc. The present incarnation with Briton Rattle at the helm is not overawed by the weight of history and tradition.

The performances of these familiar works are strong and authoritative, as one might expect. The First Symphony in C minor (Op.68) projects tautness and urgency, turning tragedy into triumph, contrasted with the more breezy and pastoral Second Symphony in D major (Op.73) which has its own dark clouds. Rattle and company takes a broader view of the elusive Third Symphony in F major (Op.90), sympathetic to the fact it is the only one that ends on a quiet. Arguably the best reading goes to the Fourth Symphony in E minor (Op.98), where autumnal repose gives way to a passionate final hurrah. The closing Passacaglia gets a tour de force of great trenchancy.

More than ample consolation for those without Esplanade tickets, this splendid box-set retails at a very affordable budget price (just $29.95 at HMV).

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